Become a great downhiller

Uphill slog and downhill freeriding. Put in very simple terms, these are the two extreme poles which go to make up each single outing in the mind of the average cyclist. And all things considered, it is not far wrong. But it isn’t that clear-cut either, because a descent can be anything but fun if taken too lightly, without using the right technique and without enough caution, resolve and self-confidence.

All too often you see cycling aficionados taking huge risks, going at reckless speeds in improbable positions, blindly mimicking racing champions they have watched on TV. Full control of the bike also implies being free of any rigidity caused by fear and even a badly tackled curve, a tiny pothole or an awkward braking movement can be extremely hazardous and the danger of falling is anything but remote.

Here are some useful tips to be kept in mind. Remember we can’t all be Paolo Savoldelli and safety comes before all else.

A head start in safety terms

We sincerely hope that this piece of advice is unnecessary, seeing as wearing a helmet has become common practice for almost everyone. But the “almost” worries us and if someone really thinks they can do without an “accessory” that could save their lives, well what is left for us to say or do…

Eyes peeled at the front… and back

Talking about accessories, have you ever thought about trying a rear-view mirror? Seeing what is going on behind you is no less important than seeing in front. Actually it is more important. When you speed down a slope, it is crucial to have a wide line of vision at the front, but you also need to know what is going on behind you because with the air whistling in your ears, you cannot hear noises coming from behind, and often you can be flanked or overtaken suddenly by cars or motorbikes (…or other more fearless cyclists) and that can easily throw you. When this happens, it is normal to lurch slightly sideways, which can be extremely perilous. Without mentioning the fact that a good percentage of bike accidents take place when cyclists turn around to check what is coming from behind. If (bad…) habits and an unwillingness to ruin a supersmart sporty look has prevented rear-view mirrors from gaining popularity, fortunately the situation is changing. With Eyelink, cycling enthusiasts can enjoy using a rear-view mirror which has an elegant and refined design, fitting in perfectly with the control panel and providing a wide line of vision.

The right grip

On a descent, “feeling” and controlling your bike is crucial. To do this, it is best to hold the handlebar at a wide angle, basically grasping it at the point where it curves. By “lowering” the centre of gravity, you should acquire more stability and increase your connection with the bike. Keep your arms slightly bent and two fingers on the brake levers all the time – this will enable you to react rapidly should anything happen. Basically, it will make you safer.

Holding your handlebar closer to the top would stop you from braking strongly enough, and your hands might also slip if there is any backlash from hitting something on the tarmac surface.
A well taped handlebar will also improve your grip and this is not something to be underestimated. Smootape – a Selle Italia international patent – this is a hi-tech bar tape with special flared edges devoid of ridges or unevenness, providing the cyclist with an extremely safe and pleasant-feeling grip.

Two brakes are better than one

When riding downhill, you need to brake firmly and gradually on both wheels (the pros say 70% on the front wheel and 30% on the back one), but without ever totally locking the wheel movement. Everyone has a different relationship with the bike, but to obtain the smoothest possible movement one good piece of advice is to pull on the brakes at the same time and gradually, pushing harder on the left one controlling the front wheel whilst you shift your body weight backwards. One last thing. Only brake when the bike is perfectly upright: once you have entered a curve, don’t even think about using the brakes unless you want to skid out of control.

Learn to lean with the bike

To have good control of the bike downhill, taking the curves from the right angle is essential. Widen the curve as much as possible, before you ride into it. Then head for the centre of the curve before exiting to the outside of it in the end. This will stop you from losing too much speed. Your eyes should “round” the corner too. Keep looking at the point where you will be riding out of the curve, not entering it, but the most important grip factor comes with leaning into the curve. To counter the centrifugal force and keep a firm grip, you need to lean inwards with your body and your bike and place your trust in your tyres. But it is vital to distribute your weight properly and make sure you don’t go rigid: Your body’s centre of gravity must be aligned with the wheel, otherwise there is a risk of slipping.

What about the position of your legs? There is a host of new theories about this, but at the end of the day, the “old” posture is always a good one: knee bent inwards and the outside foot pushing down hard on the pedal.

Keep the engine running

A descent is a marvellous opportunity to catch your breath after the hard toil of the climb, but it would be a mistake to stop pedalling and freewheel down. Your muscles would cool down too much and your legs would stiffen up as soon as the road becomes level or rises again.

It is better to keep on with the pedalling movement without going in too high a gear, not to gain speed but to keep your muscles and heart moving and work off more effectively the lactic acid that builds up.

Picking up speed after a hairpin bend, for example, is great fun and useful to keep you moving.

One more tip

When we ride as a group and there is someone better than us at downhilling, it is always a good idea to stick behind him and follow his braking pattern. This is an excellent way to become familiar with a difficult technique and learn how to push ourselves to our own limits at the same time.

 

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Become a great downhiller | Safety on the saddle – Selle Italia
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Become a great downhiller | Safety on the saddle – Selle Italia
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A descent can be anything but fun if taken too lightly, without using the right technique and without enough caution, resolve and self-confidence.
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Selle Italia
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